Runkel, Sylvan T(homas) 1906-1995
RUNKEL, Sylvan T(homas) 1906-1995
Born August 30, 1906 in Jacksonville, IL; died, 1995; son of C. A. and Myrtie Annabelle (Barnett) Runkel; married Beulah Skeie, 1930 (deceased, 1949); married Bernadine Neff, 1952; children: four sons, two daughters. Education: Iowa State College (now Iowa State University), B.S., 1933.
Writer, forester, soil scientist, lecturer, and conservationist. Civilian Conservation Corps, camp superintendent, 1933; United States Soil Conservation Service, forester technician, 1934-39, forester and conservationist, 1939-1943, soil conservationist, forester, and biologist, 1947-52, Iowa state biologist, 1952-72. Appointed to Iowa State Preserves Board, 1969-1979 (served two years as chairman). Developed wildlife programming for Iowa Public Television Network. Military service: United States Army Air Corps, 1943-47; served as glider pilot; received Purple Heart, Air Medal, Bronze Arrowhead, and Presidential Unit Citation.
Soil Conservation Society of America (president of Iowa chapter), Wildlife Society, Boy Scouts of America, Society of American Foresters, Iowa Academy of Science (board of directors, two years), Des Moines Audubon Society.
Federal Civil Servant of the Year, 1965; Frudden Award, Iowa Society of American Foresters, 1967; Iowa Conservation Hall of Fame, 1973; Soil Conservation Society of America fellow, 1974; Iowa Academy of Science fellow, 1977; Oak Leaf Award, Nature Conservancy, 1977; State Conservationist of the Year, 1987. An Iowa state nature preserve was named after Runkel in 1996.
(With Alvin F. Bull) Wildflowers of Illinois Woodlands, Wallace Homestead Book Co. (Des Moines, IA), 1979.
(With Alvin F. Bull) Wildflowers of Indiana Woodlands, Wallace Homestead Book Co. (Des Moines, IA), 1979.
(With Alvin F. Bull) Wildflowers of Iowa Woodlands, Wallace Homestead Book Co. (Des Moines, IA), 1979.
(With Dean M. Roosa) Wildflowers of the Tallgrass Prairie: The Upper Midwest, foreword by John Madson, Iowa State University Press (Ames, IA), 1989.
(With Dean M. Roosa) Wildflowers and Other Plants of Iowa Wetlands, Iowa State University Press (Ames, IA), 1999.
Conservationist, forester, and naturalist Sylvan T. Runkel dedicated his life to the preservation and maintenance of wetlands, wildlife, and other natural resources throughout Iowa and other areas in the United States. He began his career in forestry and conservation in the mid-1920s, and became superintendent of Iowa's first Civilian Conservation Corps camp in 1933. In 1934 he joined the United States Soil Conservation Service (SCS). After fighting for his country and becoming a decorated Air Force glider pilot during World War II, he returned to the SCS, where he remained until retiring in 1972. Runkel also served terms as the Iowa state biologist and as a member of the Iowa State Preserves Board.
Education was the primary tool in Runkel's conservation repertoire. He conducted hundreds of lectures, field trips, demonstrations, and workshops. "Many people were first introduced to the woodlands by taking a walk with Runkel and listening to him describe the natural community as a living entity," observed a reviewer on the Prarie du Chien Area Web site.
After retiring from government service, Runkel extended his educational mission to writing books focusing on the wildflowers, plants, trees, and other flora in the Midwestern states of Indiana, Illinois, and Iowa. Wildflowers and Other Plants of Iowa Wetlands covers 149 species of wetland plants found in Iowa and other areas of the United States and Canada. The mostly common species include ninety-five terrestrial flowering herbs, twenty-five aquatic flowering herbs, and sixteen types of trees, vines, and shrubs. "The text discusses distribution, morphology, ecology, and uses by wildlife, Native Americans, and other peoples," noted R. Schmid in Choice. "As wetlands decline in size and abundance, there is a need for greater awareness of the economic and ecological value of wetlands," remarked Julie Stundins in a review of the book on the Chicago Botanic Garden Web site. "This book is a step in the right direction in its description of different types of wetlands and the value of these basic habitats."
Runkel died in 1995, but left a lasting legacy of respect for the environment and natural world. The Sylvan Runkel State Preserve in Iowa bears his name and sets aside 330 acres of unique Loess Hills prairie land that is native to Iowa. A biography, Sylvan T. Runkel: Citizen of the Natural World, was published by Runkel's colleagues, hawk researcher and conservationist Jon W. Stravers and outdoor writer and photographer Larry A. Stone. Runkel "turned out to be an incredible teacher," Stravers commented on the Prarie du Chien Area Web site. "He was very personable, kids had an immediate respect for him, and he had a great enthusiasm for knowledge." The man considered Iowa's foremost naturalist "was kind of famous among conservationists," Stravers remarked. "He was like a walking legend."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Stone, Larry, and Jon W. Stravers, Sylvan T. Runkel: Citizen of the Natural World, Larry A. Stone (Elkader, IA), 2004.
AB Bookman's Weekly, June 5, 1989, Kevin Kiddoo, review of Wildflowers of the Tallgrass Prairie: The Upper Midwest, pp. 2510-2511.
Appraisal: Science Books for Young People, winter, 1995, Sharon Rizzo, pp. 123-124.
Choice, January, 2000, R. Schmid, review of Wildflowers and Other Plants of Iowa Wetlands.
Chicago Botanic Garden,http://www.chicago-botanic.org/ (April 2, 2004), Julie Stundins, review of Wildflowers and Other Plants of Iowa Wetlands.
Iowa Association of Naturalists,http://www.ianpage.20m.com/ (April 2, 2004), profile of Sylvan Runkel.
Prairie du Chien Area,http://www.prairieduchienarea.com/ (April 2, 2004), review of Sylvan T. Runkel: Citizen of the Natural World.*